After cancelling classes Friday due to health reasons, both the Fairfield Local and Miami Trace school districts were expected to return to their normal schedules Tuesday following Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.
Miami Trace Superintendent David Lewis said the buildings and buses had been disinfected and were ready for students to return Tuesday.
Officials at Fairfield could not be reached Monday, but Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner said as far as he knew Fairfield, where he daughters attend school, was planning to be open Tuesday.
“More than 20 percent of our student population in grades K-5 were absent Thursday, and the numbers continue to rise in the middle school and high school,” Fairfield’s website said Friday. “All evening activities for tomorrow evening and the weekend will go on as scheduled. School will resume Tuesday, Jan. 21. (Monday is MLK Day.) Enjoy the long weekend.”
Warner speculated Friday that Fairfield’s absences were also flu-related.
“We assume it was the flu. There’s a lot of stuff going on right now,” Warner said. “We just got our surveillance report for influenza for the last week. Looking at those numbers and those charts, we were pretty on-track with the five-year average up until the last week in December, when we saw a really significant spike in Ohio in flu cases really increasing a lot more than what we normally see.”
According to the Ohio Department of Health, the state of Ohio saw a total of 672 flu-related hospitalizations between Jan. 4 and Jan. 11. During the same period in 2019, there were only 365.
At Miami Trace, Lewis said that on Thursday night and Friday last week members of the district’s custodial, maintenance and bus staffs took time to disinfect the district after the high volume of influenza B cases.
“Those teams did a good job, but we decided to just cancel all activities until Tuesday so that anyone who is sick wouldn’t bring in new germs immediately,” Lewis said. “Thankfully, (Tuesday) we will be back to normal. I know some things were already rescheduled, including several middle and high school events impacted by us being out for the four days.”
Lewis said Monday that the administrative staff members have also stayed relatively healthy and have been out of the buildings as well.
“I told everyone to stay away today,” Lewis said. “I know I came in for a few hours today, but the administration can do some things remotely if they need to. Since today is the holiday anyway, they should be enjoying a day off, but all of the administration did work on Friday. While the buildings were being cleaned they came into their offices to catch up on some things, but as far as (Monday) is concerned I wanted to keep everyone out of the buildings.”
Lewis also said the district was in contact with Fayette County Public Health throughout all of last week. It was during these discussions that the district saw a particularly large spike of absences at the middle school and decided that it would be best if they would take the time off to help mitigate the issue.
“Early in the week, especially at the middle school, attendance was impacted,” Lewis said. “At one point we had over 20 percent of the student body absent at the middle school. Deputy [Fayette County] Health Commissioner Leigh Cannon has specific numbers, but I want to say as of that time, they had 69 confirmed cases in the district. The real issue though is that the health department can only determine confirmed cases with a swab test and they told me they wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually over 100 cases.”
Following the announcement that classes would be canceled Friday, the district sent parents an email with information from the health department and encouraged them to keep kids home if they were sick so the illness would not spread.
“Even though it was particularly bad at the middle school, our students share buses so it can impact all students easily,” Lewis said. “[Cannon] said they contract with someone who sees this information about medication for sickness and attendance to help the county determine its needs. She made the comment that there were cases countywide, but it was definitely a problem rising in the district. So with that in mind, we want to protect our students, and it worked out perfectly that we could take the four-day weekend to clean the buildings and prepare them for the rest of the flu season.”
Lewis emphasized that if a child is sick they should remain home, and encouraged the community to make sure to go to the doctor as the flu can be deadly for younger people or others who have a compromised immune system.
“If there is a question of their health it is probably better to keep them home,” Lewis said. “I know it can be inconvenient to have days off of school, but we greatly appreciate everyone’s support and cooperation. Student health and safety is our priority and we would rather be safe than sorry.”
Warner said Friday that there had been six flu-related hospitalizations in Highland County this flu season, which began around Thanksgiving. However, he added that it’s probable that there were others that weren’t officially categorized as flu-related.
“We’re still in the process of rising to that peak,” Warner said. “At some point in most flu seasons, we’ll start to see that drop down. Really any day now, we’ll see it slowly start to decline. Then normally we’ll see a second spike of influenza cases a little later in the season.”
Warner encouraged people to get their flu vaccines.
“Flu shots are the best way to protect yourself from the flu,” Warner said. “There have been some people who are concerned about whether the most prevalent flu strain right now, one of the influenza B strains, is included in our flu shot, and it definitely is. Our flu shot will protect people from the most prevalent strain of flu out there right now. We encourage people to get their flu vaccines.”
He said those who are sick should cover their coughs and sneezes and stay home to prevent the flu from spreading further, and everyone should wash their hands.